I spent the Christmas holidays with an old friend who just moved to the U.S. five years ago. She’s a new immigrant and as an anthropologist, she shared profound insights about her experience and struggles in her new home. The deep conversations with her the past few days about survival and the Filipino – Americans I met through her, introduced me to the life of Filipino immigrants in the U.S. In the Philippines, it’s common to have a family member or a relative who is an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) in different parts of the world. Oftentimes, it’s seen as a status symbol to have an OFW in the family because of the remittances they send to loved ones, leading their families to move up the economic ladder. Based on 2017 World Bank data, OFW sent around $33 billion in remittances to their families in the Philippines. It is an economic driver making the Philippine economy afloat. Remittances accounted for 11 percent of the country’s GDP in 2016 and U.S. is one of the top destinations of overseas Filipinos. According to census, there are nearly 2 million Filipino – Americans in the U.S. since migration started in the 19th century when U.S. annexed the Philippines in 1899. Most of them are sending money back and many brought their entire families here, bringing with them the Filipino culture, values, religion, food and other uniquely Filipino ways.
The painful struggles and success stories of many Filipino – Americans I met immersed me in the unique narratives of their journey in chasing the American dream. They are doctors, nurses, medical assistants, pastors, teachers, students and other professionals who welcomed me to their homes and to their religious communities. During those candid conversations, they lightly recounted their sufferings, injustices, defeats and victories in living in the land of the free and finding their own distinct identity and place in this multicultural society. They are all incredibly courageous souls, brilliant risk-takers and trail blazers. This experience gave me a fresh perspective of the Filipino diaspora and the American dream. I’m glad to connect with fellow Filipinos who manage to survive and become successful in different ways and those who are still in transition. They have enriched the society at large with their unique contributions. Their stories are still a reminder to care for the others and to do away with “us vs. them” mentality. We still have a long way to go in this department and more battles to be won to close this gap. In the meantime, these inspiring narratives encouraged me to carry on and enable opportunities to build a better Philippines.